he 135-pound division boasts some of the sport's best and most exciting fighters, including the lineal champion, Juan Manuel Marquez, whose July 18 bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. was recently postponed until September. There would be no shortage of good fights for Marquez to make here should he return after the Mayweather fight.
1. Juan Manuel Marquez (50-4-1, 37 KO, Ring Magazine World Champion)
Marquez's February win over Juan Diaz was an instant classic, and maybe the most important night of his career. Chasing former foe Manny Pacquiao, Marquez's body doesn't quite even belong at 135 pounds, but he made the most of it, absorbing hellacious storms from the younger Diaz and putting him away in the ninth round. He showed not just his brilliance as a counterpuncher, or his accuracy when exhibiting those skills. He showed a killer instinct; when Diaz was hurt, Marquez was like a shark going after that blood scent. He also showed a willingness to take in order to give back; Diaz isn't a big puncher, but he socked Marquez pretty good on numerous occasions. That also speaks to his chin.
It was also the fight that landed him a date with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which promises to be his biggest payday ever, and puts him in the boxing limelight again, where he was with Pacquiao for their rematch, which set PPV records for fighters their size (then 130 pounds) or smaller. We're in an era where the "little" man rules boxing, and Marquez has become a big piece of that puzzle. He also stands as a deserving heir to the throne of King of the Mexican Fighters, which is certainly no footnote for his career. It's a huge honor, and he's wearing the crown with great pride.
2. Joan Guzman (29-0, 17 KO)
Guzman is 33 years old now and this seems like it's pretty much as good as it's ever going to get. He's a guy I could see retiring with zero losses on his record, yet not having done a whole lot. He's an excellent technician, a really great boxer. He's got skills that few guys have. But he means no money, he often makes ugly, boring fights, and his career has been a waste the last three years. Since December 2006, Guzman has fought just three times: Once that month against Antonio Davis, November 2007 with Humberto Soto, and December 2008 with Ameth Diaz. The biggest of those fights was with Guzman, which left more folks talking about how they'd rather not watch him fight again than anything. The weight issue in the scrapped fight with Nate Campbell was kind of a "last straw" thing, at least for now. He's not finding any fights, and who knows if he's even really trying to?
3. Edwin Valero (25-0, 25 KO)
Valero has certainly gotten better since he was on that big KO-1 streak, when he was a guy with savage power, but about whom "rough around the edges" would've been a vast understatement. He's still never going to be confused with Guzman or Mayweather out there, but he's improved. The power is the thing with him, and so far, nobody has been able to withstand it, and some tough guys have tried. Valero's recent return to the States seems to have given a big head, though: He's only licensed to fight in Texas and still has very little name over here, but he's demanding only "big money" fights, which means he won't knock more guys out on more Top Rank PPVs or HBO undercards to build his name, which means there won't be any big money fights.
4. Juan Diaz (34-2, 17 KO)
I look at Diaz in a number of ways.
- When he was unbeaten, he was probably a little overrated. He won on pressure and volume punching, and it was great until...
- He lost, at which point he sort of became underrated. The Campbell fight was no blowout, but Nate clearly beat him, in part because his cut man was horrible, and also because he didn't deal with the blood well at all. Which leads me to...
- His guts. I'm not saying he's not brave, or that he didn't go out on his shield against Marquez. But I don't know that I'd put him in the "warrior" camp just yet.
- I'm not sure he really loves boxing, which is part of my hesitation. We heard for 37 years about him going to college, and now he wants to go to law school. There are good jobs in this world waiting for Diaz that don't involve being punched in the head all night or the weeks of grueling training and the time spent between fights not turning into Ricky Fatton.
- He's a damned exciting fighter to watch. The only time I've ever been disappointed by a Diaz bout was against Michael Katsidis, and that was Katsidis' fault. Despite any reservations I have from an analytical standpoint, I like Juan Diaz, and I like watching him fight.
5. Joel Casamayor (36-4-1, 22 KO)
Casamayor is 37 years old and his best performance since beating Diego Corrales for the lightweight championship in 2006 came in his loss last September to Marquez, which I think some folks forget was a really close fight at the time of the stoppage. Two of the three judges had it 95-95, which I also had, and the third judge had Marquez ahead, 97-93. Casamayor pulled out of the Lightweight Lightning card earlier this year and hasn't been heard from since. His caginess makes him trouble for anyone in the division, and I do mean anyone. His slowing with age means he's not what he used to be, but that's nature. He's still one of the most underrated great fighters of his generation.
6. Rolando Reyes (31-4-2, 20 KO)
Since being blown out by Jose Luis Castillo in 2006, Reyes hasn't lost in five fights, but he also wasn't doing much to make a name for himself as much more than a journeyman. Sure, he battered Stevie Johnston, but Stevie was way past it. He beat C+ fighter Ivan Valle, but that whole fight felt like Reyes should've been doing more. Then he came in as a late replacement against ex-titlist Julio Diaz at Lightweight Lightning, and he stunned a lot of folks when he suddenly and definitively opened up a can of what the folks in Texas call "whoop-ass" on Diaz, finishing him in the fifth round. It was a HUGE win for Reyes, who now is close to the upper class of lightweights.
7. Ali Funeka (30-2-2, 25 KO)
6-foot-1 South African Funeka gave it his all against Nate Campbell in February, but was simply beaten by a more well-rounded fighter in a heck of a good scrap that made Funeka even more legit than he was after destroying Zahir Raheem. Past those two fights, his record is still really light, but he's a huge lightweight and could still get even better at age 31. He deserves another title shot, but doesn't seem likely to get one any time soon.
8. Paulus Moses (24-0, 17 KO)
"The Hitman" from Namibia is another guy with a soft record past one good win, a defeat of Yusuke Kobori in January. Moses may not be headed for stardom, but he (sort of) holds an alphabet title, he's unbeaten, his last fight was a good victory, and he's got a massive reach for his size, at 72" while standing a lightweight normal five feet, eight inches. For comparison, Funeka's reach is also 72".
9. Urbano Antillon (26-0, 19 KO)
He's still got some "eh" fights to go, but I've been a big fan ever since he wasted tough Bobby Pacquiao in 2008:
10. Anthony Peterson (28-0, 19 KO)
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Michael Katsidis (25-2, 21 KO) probably retired Jesus Chavez (44-5, 30 KO) with a pretty nasty beating at Lightweight Lightning, which was one of those fights where the commentators played favorites to the degree of believing that Chavez was actually in the fight. Chavez quitting on his stool after seven rounds was a sign that the fighter himself probably wondered what the hell they were talking about if he bothered to watch the tape. As awesome as Katsidis can be to watch, I wouldn't pick him over anyone in the top ten. Some guys would outbox him, others I think would just knock him out.
Vicente Escobedo (21-1, 13 KO) may finally be getting his career into second gear. His retiring defeat of Carlos Hernandez at Lightweight Lightning was a show-stealer, and he turned right around a month and a half later to smoke a super shot Kevin Kelley (60-10-2, 39 KO).
Speaking of super shot, Marco Antonio Barrera (65-7, 43 KO) should really retire. I don't know for sure, but I doubt he needs the money, and there's less than a 5% chance he ever wins that elusive lightweight world title to put on his mantle. The man is a Hall of Famer and was a great, great fighter, but he's way too small for the division, and he's a really old 35, which isn't young in boxing years to begin with.
Antonio DeMarco (21-1, 15 KO) took home a hard-fought W over Almazbek "Kid Diamond" Raiymkulov (27-2-1, 15 KO) in February on Showtime, and returns on July 11 to face Anges Adjaho (25-1, 14 KO).
David Diaz (34-2-1, 17 KO) hasn't been seen in a year, since he was taken to the woodshed by Manny Pacquiao, and the only time he's been heard from was a trip to the Philippines where he reportedly had a nice time. Good for him.
John Murray (27-0, 15 KO) lost his BBBofC lightweight title on the scales a couple weeks ago, coming in about 2 oz. overweight for his fight with Scott Lawton. Murray stopped him in six.
Julio Diaz (36-5, 26 KO) gets on the comeback trail again on July 31, facing Victor Manuel Cayo (22-0, 15 KO), which will likely be at junior welterweight, since Cayo has been fighting there. Cayo is 5'11". Even though we aren't talking about a lightweight fight, I thought I'd mention Diaz here. Should he lose, Diaz will have to really claw back to relevance.
Breidis Prescott (21-0, 18 KO) didn't look quite so superhuman strong a puncher when faced with Humberto Toledo instead of Amir Khan, and given that Toledo has been knocked out in short order by Humberto Soto (TKO-3) and Lamont Peterson (KO-1), that's probably just as bad for Khan's chin as it is Prescott's power and ugly mechanics. If the Khan camp is smart, they'll never stick Amir out there with Prescott for revenge. Just let it go, because Prescott isn't good enough that the win will really matter. It'd be like Wladimir Klitschko coming out to settle the score with Ross Puritty.